POLITICS
07/15/2015 12:23 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2015

Iowa Utility Will Phase Out Coal At 5 Plants, In Milestone For Sierra Club

The announcement marks the 200th planned coal plant closure in the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

An Iowa utility will phase out coal at five plants in the state under a settlement announced Wednesday by the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Sierra Club and the state of Iowa were also co-plaintiffs in the case, which dealt with alleged violations of the Clean Air Act by Alliant Energy subsidiary Interstate Power and Light. Under the agreement, Alliant has agreed to install pollution controls on two plants, while five plants will either switch from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas or shut down entirely. The company also agreed to spend $6 million on environmental mitigation projects and to pay $1.1 million to resolve the complaints regarding Clean Air Act violations. 

"This settlement will eliminate thousands of tons of harmful air pollution each year significantly improving air quality in Iowa and throughout the Midwest," Kevin W. Techau, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, said in a statement. "The agreement demonstrates the Department of Justice’s strong efforts, along with EPA, to bring large sources of air pollution into compliance with the Clean Air Act." 

For Sierra Club, the announcement marks the 200th coal plant that the group has helped get shut down as part of the Beyond Coal campaign, which is taking aim at the 523 coal-fired power plants across the country. When the campaign was launched in 2009, Sierra Club originally set out to close one-third of plants by 2020. Earlier this year, the group upped the goal to half of all plants by 2017.

"Back in 2009, the prevailing wisdom was that coal was inevitable, that the U.S. would be burning coal for a long time," Bruce Nilles, ‎senior campaign director for Beyond Coal, told The Huffington Post. "We set out to show that you can make a lot of progress even without a climate bill." 

Both Alliant and Sierra Club said they were pleased with the settlement, which avoided protracted litigation. 

“For several years, we have been executing a plan to create cleaner and more efficient ways to generate energy for our customers,” said Doug Kopp, president of Alliant Energy’s Iowa utility, in a statement. "Iowans are already seeing the benefits of our work, and our next projects will deliver even more clean-energy solutions."

Iowa, which is already generating nearly 30 percent of its power from wind, is an "appropriate place" to mark the 200th closure, said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Beyond Coal campaign. "Iowa really is showing the rest of the country what their economy can look like, how to do well and prosper in a world powered by more and more clean energy."

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